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Seoul Searching

sunny 13 °C
View Around the World in 129 Days on around129's travel map.

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It appears that the poor pun headlines are a thing now, sorry!

The flight from Ulaanbaatar provided some incredible views of the Gobi Desert. It took off at sunrise and there were clear skies all the way so that was really nice. I landed at Incheon airport which was over an hour by train from the city centre.

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As well as being one of the cleanest cities I have ever been to, Seoul was an interesting place. What history was left after the war has been carefully restored while being surrounded by an endless mass of super modern skyscrapers. I had a couple of lazy days doing not very much followed by a couple of sightseeing days. Evidence of the virus was everywhere. About 95% of people were wearing facemasks and regular announcements on the Metro system urged passengers to wear them although the authorities seemed to have stopped just short of making it obligatory as many cities in China have done. Based on most available information saying they are likely to have very little effect compared to regular hand washing, I didn't wear one, until this evening when a member of staff in the restaurant I was in brought one to my table and urgently advised me to wear it when I got back on the bus. I put it on to be polite! Everywhere stinks of hand sanitizer! Many museums were closed and those that were open were not running organised tours. Places that were open were absolutely deserted. I can only assume that a lot of tourists usually come from China, along with it being out of season. Everywhere I went I walked past long empty queuing lines and went straight to the ticket desk. It sounds really daft but I actually started to find the masks a bit depressing by the time I left! It was a little unsettling to hardly see another human face for 4 days! In Busan, probably only around 50% of people were wearing them.

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I feel like up to now I have survived without any major traveller #epicfails but on my first night in Seoul that came to an end! I got the exchange rate muddled up! I had read that the portions at the restaurant I had picked were smaller than average and seeing the prices I assumed it was a sort of tapas thing, Korean style! So I ordered 3 plates of food from the bewildered looking waitress who brought an absolute mountain of food back 15 minutes later! It turned out I had mis-placed the comma (It's about ₩1,500 to the £) and was actually spending 10 times what I thought I was! Thankfully it was still only £16 and she was quite happy to box it up for me! I also tried to tip which I now know is a big no no in Korea, bordering on offensive in fact.

In the interest of flying as little as possible, I have booked my flight to get me back on the planned route from the Southern port city of Busan where I have been for the last 3 days. The flight from here is a whole 15 minutes shorter than from Seoul and it was a nice excuse to go on a train! The train journey on KoRail's KTX high speed train was pleasant. As you might expect from the far East, public transport works here. It's so good it's almost boring! I picked up a tourist "t-money" smart card when I arrived at the airport. It came attached to a map of all Korea's Metro systems and have been able to use it on buses, Metros, trams and even some shops and vending machines in both Seoul and Busan. The older KTX trains use the same type of rolling stock as the French TGVs and the original Eurostar sets which felt strange! Each first class carriage boasted it's own mini library!

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Busan is nice. Small compared to Seoul but still huge and mainly massive, modern tower blocks. I could almost touch the restaurant I went to last night from the hotel room but it I had to go down 21 floors in one lift, cross the street and back up another 9 floors to get to it. I'm not sure I could live like this! Being on the coast though, pebble beaches and nice views were just a short walk or bus journey away.

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I'll be glad to get back on my planned route tomorrow and back to ground transport! I'm on flight VJ981 from Gimhae International to Noi Bai International in Hanoi where I am due to meet Passepartout Emma again!

Three things I didn't know about South Korea last week:

1) You need a degree to work out how to clean your bottom
2) Eating noisily is acceptable, encouraged in fact. If you're eating quietly you're suffering in silence and could upset your host! Believe me, this is true. I probably failed to hide my looks of disgust on my first night, then I Googled it!!
3) Apart from a few tiny island nations, SK is the only country in the world which does not have full navigational functionality on Google maps due to concerns over security. Even the neighboring DPRK has it! Just zoom in on the area now and you'll see the mapping in the South looks slightly different to everywhere else. Walking and driving directions don't work at all. It's amazing what Google maps has done for travel. Nowhere feels scary or alien anymore and you can easily navigate your way around a new city in seconds. It's been a bit tricky getting used to being without it this week!

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Posted by around129 03:13 Archived in South Korea

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Comments

You'll be glad to see Emma again; poor old Seoul. It will be good to get back to you're planned route too. Thanks for all your fantastic notes; brilliant. I am heading north to my home town of Harrogate tomorrow so will not need a visa.

by RayEliz

Richard, Gerald and Marion have just been looking at your travels and send there best wishes to a fantastic bloke (I think they mean you!)

by RayEliz

Looking forward to your Vietnam reports - we are flying there in 3 weeks

by robinstride

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